February 2011 – Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks
From the author:
During National Poetry Month 2009, I decided to write a poem each day in a marathon of artistic frenzy. I’m not alone in this endeavor; each year many poets do the same (we call it NaPoWriMo). However, I wanted to spend this particular NaPoWriMo learning how to compose sonnets. The beauty of the form appealed to my aesthetic sense and the difficulty of the form appealed to my love of complexity. I remembered reading about artists who, when they wished to learn how to draw something in particular, worked on anywhere from ten to one hundred or more “studies” of the object, learning the mechanics of the art as they explored the object’s form. These poems arose from my study of the sonnet form while exploring my love of clouds and weather.
From the publisher — Whale Sound Process Notes:
As the audio chapbook process evolves, I find the choices I make in accepting manuscripts are very much connected to my own desire to keep learning, and (in addition to publishing some terrific poetry by web-active poets) are designed to provide me with challenges I think I need.
So, of the several submissions I received for the first Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks open submission period, Christine’s lovely manuscript stood out for being the only one in form. She had written a series of cloud sonnets during NaPoWriMo in 2009, starting out with the express idea of learning to manage the sonnet form. I loved this idea and promptly adopted it, with a slight variation. Most of the poetry I read on Whale Sound is free verse, with only the very occasional poem in form. The two previous audio chapbooks from Whale Sound were also free verse. So I knew that I had to take Christine’s manuscript and one of my goals in doing so was to understand more about reading aloud poetry in form — sonnets in particular. Add to that the beauty of her poems and the enormous appeal of her unifying theme (poems written based on or inspired by cloud forms – what’s not to like about that?!) and I was hooked.
We look to poetry for many different things. Before Cloud Studies, I had published Handmade Boats by Heather Hummel and Studies in Monogamy by Nicelle Davis, both free verse manuscripts which attracted me in different ways by the power of their imagery and their visceral/emotional, rather than traditional, approach to narration. With both these chapbooks, I enjoyed the opportunity to work at ‘divining’ the poetic narratives emotionally, and using voice, through the dense imagistic richness of the poems.
With Christine’s Cloud Studies poems, the narrative in each poem is more traditionally straightforward, and what this gives the reader is a rich opportunity to enjoy the skillful ways she uses form and craft to serve those narratives and build out the ideas in the poem. These are reflective, exploratory poems that serve as test-beds for both technical and intellectual/emotional investigation. They tackle a range of difficult themes – from love, grief and betrayal, to death and existential angst – with a fine sensibility and delicate language, all underpinned by Christine’s considerable technical skill as a poet.
Editing Cloud Studies
Like Heather and Nicelle before her, Christine was a true delight to work with from an editing point of view. I always think part of my job as an editor is to poke a bony figure at places in the poetic fabric I think are weak or fraying. What I want from an editee is honesty and clear-sightedness in his or her responses – either, oops, yes, you’re right, that was a band-aid, a lazy moment, I can fix it; OR wait no, I think you have misread that, it’s not at all weak, it needs to stay like that because of x, y & z. You don’t want to be in a fight to the death to change every comma, but neither do you want an editee who accepts everything you propose without question. Christine had the perfect balanced approach – took on board what she genuinely thought would improve things and pushed back for the status quo when she genuinely thought that was the best formulation.
Reading Cloud Studies Aloud
The challenge in reading the sonnets aloud, I found, lay with the iambic pentameter. Christine handles both rhyme and meter skillfully, and of course weaves in enough headless iambs, spondees, trochees or other iambic substitutions that one is not faced with a relentless strict iambic beat throughout, but still I found my first instinct was to sacrifice content to form and automatically underline the iambs – da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM – with my voice as they came up. It took me several takes at each sonnet to be able to step back from that — to purposefully connect first with meaning and emotional sense and to trust the text and my voice to take care of the meter and Christine’s wonderful slant, internal and end rhymes. I can hear places still where I did not fully succeed in this, but I did make some progress and thoroughly enjoyed both the exercise and the challenge.
~ Nic Sebastian, Whale Sound, February 1, 2011
You are not to blame. We separate.
We jump in the river, flailing, sink along
the slippery shore. Angels come too late.
Iridescence decorates the wrong
sky. I close my eyes against the sting
of antiseptic. Plastic tubing smells
forever. We pretend that everything
will be all right. His brother gathers shells
as though the sound of water matters. I
cry when no one knows. My darling son,
can you see the rainbows in the sky?
Perhaps. I know the morphine has not run
its course. The river beckons. I will keep
your dreams safe, my little boy. Just sleep.